Texas Rangers: Claw and Antlers
Nolan Ryan, the president of the Texas Rangers, has a Hall-of-Fame resume. Well, obviously. He’s in the Hall of Fame. Ryan won 324 games in his twenty-seven year career, struck out a 5,714 batters, and pitched seven no-hitters. The strikeouts and no-hitters are both all time records.
Yet, somehow, the enduring image of his notable career has become that of a 46-year-old Ryan (member of the 1969 Mets) attempting to beat in the face of a 26-year-old Robin Ventura (member of the 2000 Mets), as Ryan holds him in a headlock. That image has become his legacy more than anything else.
These Texas Rangers, for better or worse, are Nolan Ryan’s team. They’re aggressive. They run the bases aggressively, swing aggressively, and pitch aggressively:
- Five Rangers stole at least fourteen bases. According to Bill James Online, the Rangers gained a total of +92 extra bases this season, the third highest number in baseball.
- Only the Baltimore Orioles managed to see fewer pitches per plate appearance than designated bad-ball hitter Vlad Guerrero and the free-swinging Rangers. They did this mostly without the help of late additions Jeff Francoeur and Bengie Molina, making it even more impressive.
- Texas’ pitchers hit 63 batters with pitches, just three off the major league lead.
But these Rangers are not quite school-yard bully aggressive, like the recent Phillies teams or Nolan Ryan himself. They’re not jerks. But they are a happy-go-lucky aggressive, collectively emerging from a cloud of dirt as an endearingly boyish baseball team. The Rangers are the sort of team on which everyone wears eye black. They hustle, sometimes to the point of recklessness, but it’s because they just go for it. The Rangers try to grab whatever they think they can take. And that’s fun.
But being likable doesn’t mean the Rangers are not intimidating. Texas’ game one starter, Cliff Lee, pitches with a impersonal, methodical detachment, Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name. Lee is now 7-0 with a 1.26 ERA, has a 9.5-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and one home run allowed in eight playoff starts — but he somehow isn’t even their scariest player. That honor would go to Josh Hamilton, who posted a 1.536 OPS in the ALCS and found himself intentionally walked five times by the Yankees. Lee is the most feared postseason pitcher, Hamilton is the most feared hitter, and the eye black Rangers have them both on a roll.
The Rangers are many things: boyish, charming, intimidating, and with their disdain for pitch counts, maybe a little old-fashioned. As it should be, of course: They’re Texas’s Rangers.
San Francisco Giants: The Freak Show
The San Francisco Giants, for their part, are an eccentric bunch. Their manager, Bruce Bochy, is the only manager ever born in France. Infielders Pablo Sandoval and Juan Uribe are fat. Ace Tim Lincecum is tiny, emaciated, and nicknamed “the freak.” Lefty Jonathan Sanchez is curiously over-groomed. Their King-Leonidas-bearded closer suggests that every notable person named Brian Wilson is both brilliant and slightly off. The Giants have no traditionally perfect players — second baseman Freddy Sanchez might be the worst player to win a batting title in thirty years — but that’s okay. They play by the San Francisco Bay, where tradition is just another word for outdated.
That being said, the Giants offense does look like a science fair project thrown together the night before it was due. The team’s best position player, catcher Buster Posey, is a rookie who spent the first two months of the year in the minors. First baseman Aubrey Huff was an unwanted free agent this past winter. Left fielder Pat Burrell was designated as washed up by the Rays back in May, and NLCS MVP and right fielder Cody Ross was claimed in August only to block him from going to the rival Padres. Apparently, general manager Brian Sabean figured that if he picked up every middling outfielder available (Burrell, Ross, Jose Guillen), one or two might eventually pan out.
Still, the Giants highest paid pitcher (Barry Zito) hasn’t been on the playoff roster yet, and their highest paid position player (outfielder Aaron Rowand) has ridden the bench. Last year’s surprise star, Sandoval, completely regressed and lost his starting job. The Giants are good team, but it looks to be far more a residue of accident than design — their success seems to be more McGruber than James Bond.
Except for the pitching, that is to say. The Giants led the National League in ERA and strikeouts, mostly with home-grown arms. Lincecum, Jonathan Sanchez, Matt Cain, and Madison Bumgarner were each drafted and developed by the Giants within the last eight years. Lincecum, a miracle of torque, managed to lead the NL in strikeouts in an otherwise down year. He might still be the best pitcher in the series. Closer Brian Wilson, who has emerged as a star this season, is another product of the Giants farm system. (No word on where the Machine came from.) Brian Sabean is often portrayed as bumbling and slightly clueless — as he might be — but it’s hard to argue with those arms. The pitching is the backbone of the team. Everything else is just fat.
That’s the Giants: Pitching, defense, and a patchwork offense. Maybe not the traditional plan, but whatever gets it done, right?
Who To Root For:
There are two approaches to this question.
The first: If you want to pick a team based on Mets fandom, it really comes down to how you feel about Jeff Francoeur. Sort of like everything in life. In fact, I make all of my important life decisions based on how I feel about Frenchy at the moment. It’s worked out pretty well so far. (Editor’s note: It hasn’t.)
Anyway, the Rangers have Francoeur, Darren Oliver, and Darren O’Day for former Mets. The Giants carry Guillermo Mota, as well as former Mets killers Burrell and Ross.
If you like Jeff Francoeur, as Poppa Flood does, then it’s an overwhelming victory for the Rangers. The relieving Darrens are both likable former Mets. Throw in Frenchy, if you’re a fan, and it’s a pearly whitewash. Comparatively, The Giants come up with a big zero on their end. No sane Mets fan feels anything greater than pity for Mota, and Burrell still makes me cringe.
BUT: If you believe in the power of on-base percentage, logic, truth, justice, and the American way — or if this picture makes you scowl:
Then you should probably root for the Giants.
The second approach for deciding who to root for is this: How do you feel about drugs? Because that’s what this World Series is really about. It’s not about Bengie Molina, Will Clark, or the Yankees. No one is saying it, but this series is about drugs. Who has trouble with drugs, who used drugs, who has been arrested for drugs, and who is against drugs. What do you like better? The Brian Jones era Rolling Stones (drugs), or the Ron Wood era Rolling Stones (post drugs, mostly). Are you socially liberal or socially conservative? San Francisco or Texas? That’s pretty much your answer right there.
If you’re anti-drug, then the Rangers are your team. As is well known, Josh Hamilton’s career and life were nearly destroyed by substance abuse. Manager Ron Washington has his own struggles, testing positive for cocaine last season. Starter C.J. Wilson has an entertaining twitter account under the name “str8edgeracer,” a nod to his abstention from drugs and alcohol. And also a nod to his love for cars, I guess. The ginger ale spraying Rangers are a walking billboard for the perils of the human body, but also for the spirit’s ability to overcome.
If you’re pro-drug, well, you know. Duh.
Who’s going to win?
The only edge the Giants have offensively are are at catcher and maybe first base; everywhere else is all Rangers. The lineups are about equal defensively, Texas being first in park-adjusted defensive efficiency, the Giants being second. As for pitching, the Giants appear to have an advantage by ERA, but Texas is a hitter haven that messes with their pitcher’s numbers. Looking past the parks as much as possible, Lincecum (3.21 xFIP) is equaled by Lee (3.23 xFIP), and the game two (Matt Cain, 4.19 xFIP, vs. C.J. Wilson, 4.20 xFIP) and three (Jonathan Sanchez, 4.11 xFIP, vs Colby Lewis, 3.93 xFIP) pitching matchups are closer than they might initially appear by ERA. Madison Bumgarner has an advantage over whomever the Rangers use as their fourth starter, but that’s the Giants only edge in the pitching.
The games will be close, but the Rangers advantage in run scoring is bigger than the Giants advantage in run prevention. Rangers in six.